March 15, 2016


The recent regional elections in Germany, in which the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party exceeded all earlier projections of voter support, have delivered a powerful blow to Angela Merkel’s government. AfD’s gains have been accompanied by a massive surge in voter participation in Germany as citizens rallied overwhelmingly around a single issue agenda: Merkel’s heretofore open policy on migration. Judging from exit polls, the governing establishment parties (both Merkel’s CDU and her coalition SPD) have taken a serious beating across the board. More importantly, the results in these mid-term Land elections could be a predictor of what is to come in the next German federal balloting in 2017.

This election in Germany, more so than intra-EU squabbling over obligatory quotas of MENA migrants or the effort to cut a deal with Turkey to slow down the flow, marks a turning point in Europe’s political power distribution. It impacts not just how the European Union will ultimately handle the migration crisis, but also how the whole European project moves forward hence. The Merkel government, which not long ago was able to dictate the terms in Greece, set the azimuth on the future of the eurocurrency, and demand immigrant resettlement quotas, has just lost some of its ability to shape its own domestic political agenda.

The ripple effects of the German voter rebellion against Merkel’s open-door immigration policy will rapidly be felt across the continent. . . .

A weakened German government at a moment when the European Union project is reeling from multiple crises is bad news all around. For starters, it augurs a much more inward-looking Germany going forward. Some will rejoice perhaps that “Europe’s Iron Lady” has been cut down to size by her own people. But the larger question of a lack of leadership at the EU level and a deepening drift in Europe should be an urgent concern as much in Washington as it is today in Europe’s capitals. There is one enduring lesson from Angela Merkel’s political troubles that is worth repeating on both sides of the Atlantic: This is what happens when you don’t listen to your citizens.


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